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What Causes the Gender Pay Gap? 

Beyond Gender Pay Gap Featured 1

Published Date: 16th November 2023.

Back in 2017, I attended Paula Bennett’s talk about The Gender Pay Gap, which inspired me to write a blog about the topic, ‘The Gender Pay Gap — Has It Improved?’. More than six years on, we are unfortunately grappling with the same problem.

But we seem to be dancing around the root causes of these issues: Women are disadvantaged because they often prioritise family. Shock, horror – who knew! This is the reality we all understand but often choose to ignore. Of course, more men are giving up a few working years to contribute to child-rearing. But it’s an immutable fact that this sacrifice remains a woman’s to bear.

Gender Discrimination Can Be Subtle 

The obstacles to gender equality are ever-present for women, despite what you’ll find in those shiny annual reports. What do these obstacles look like in practice? Consider that hiring managers still take into account that a woman in her 30s who is in a long-term relationship (and hasn’t had children yet) is likely to need a break at some stage to have children. Are such hiring decisions legal? No — but that doesn’t make them any less prevalent.

The Dynamics of the Gender Pay Gap

With these issues in mind, it’s highly worthwhile to look at the research findingsof 2023 Nobel Prize winner Claudia Goldin.

In her award-winning study, Goldin examined the dynamics of gender gaps in the workplace, looking at factors such as workforce participation, working patterns, and lifelong earnings.

One of the major hurdles women face professionally is “greedy work” — the tendency of organisations to pay a premium for employees who will work “long and inflexible hours.” Men, unsurprisingly, fill most of these roles.

Often, men working in these high-powered roles will have a partner who will keep the home fires burning and ensure that everything runs smoothly so they can pursue their career and fight their way to the top. They get to have the dream job and a balanced, supported family life too.

Working women with children, on the other hand, cope with guilt every day. For women, there is a persistent sense, however unwarranted, that they aren’t giving enough to their workplace. Meanwhile, that guilt is coupled with another — the feeling that they’re not giving enough to their family! Ask any female who is balancing the two, and there is always an element of guilt.

How to Help Women Thrive at Work

So, what can employers do to support women at work? The good news is that you can improve diversity and inclusion with practical strategies. Here are five approaches identified by Goldin’s research, as outlined here:

  1. Prioritise productivity over clocking hours: Reward success over merely 'being present.' Shifting focus to results and accomplishments promotes a culture of efficiency while making work fairer for women. Over the years, I have observed many women who achieve so much more than the average person within their set hours because they know they have a limited amount of time to get the work done. Sometimes, they choose to work fewer hours and get paid less, and yet they achieve more.

  2. Hire women – and men – who have workforce gaps: Consider hiring experienced professionals, regardless of their gender, who may have taken time off from their careers due to family responsibilities. Their skills and wisdom can be invaluable to your organisation. We should be doing everything we can to embrace professionals who have devoted years to their families, to ensure that they are not disadvantaged by having this time away. Give them the opportunities, and they will come back up to speed very quickly.

  3. Remote work does make a difference: As Goldin’s research shows, women tend to value flexibility of time more than just salary. It’s fantastic that flexibility has become normal post-Covid, which has enabled women to juggle their work/life balance more effectively. Long may this continue.

  4. Promote job sharing: Encourage job-sharing arrangements, as they offer seamless workforce continuity and flexibility for both the business and its employees. We have had some very successful examples of this at Beyond Recruitment, with two mums sharing a recruitment desk (Mon to Wed and Wed to Fri) after returning to work from maternity leave. Job sharing is the perfect solution when you have two people who work equally hard and excel at keeping task handovers as smooth as possible. Why don’t we do more of this?

  5. Listen to what women want at work: It’s important to remember that we cannot speak for another or all individuals. Each person has their own aspirations, challenges, strengths, and weaknesses. We need to be flexible, listen, and discuss options rather than assuming we know what is best.

Asking the Right Questions

At the end of the day, is the question “Why is there a gender pay gap?” or is the question “How can we truly support parents who want the family balance and still want to achieve at work and award them appropriately?”

At Beyond Recruitment, we understand that professionals at different stages of their life need understanding and support to help them achieve their life balance. For guidance and support in building a more inclusive workplace, contact usto discuss how we can help you thrive.

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